Body image

Introducing body neutrality

In this episode, Claire introduces the concept of body neutrality, how it differs from body positivity, and why we focus on body neutrality with our members.

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Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Flourish podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, founder of Flourish. We're on a mission to help women get healthy for good. Join me each week for a new episode, that'll help you sustain healthy habits and nourish your body so you can flourish in life.

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Introduction

Claire Siegel: Welcome back to the Flourish podcast. Episode 45. Oh my gosh, 45. That is almost 50, which is pretty much a hundred. So, I mean, welcome to our hundredth episode. Does anyone else count like that? I do that like with the year. I'm like, okay, so it is July, which means we're halfway through the year, which means it's basically 2022, which means it's basically 2025, which means I need to have X, Y, and Z. You know what I mean?

Anyway, welcome to the podcast. It is... it's been so fun to be back recording. Um, if you are returning to the podcast, welcome back. And if you're new, I'm so happy that you're here. Today's episode is a little bit different. Let me explain. So I was actually recently interviewed by the amazing and illustrious Riley Blanks Reed for Camillestyles.com.

Now, if you are not familiar, Camille Styles is kind of a legend, especially here in Austin, Texas. I remember I was in college when I first started my first blog and she was, I don't know if she was starting the blog then, or certainly like, you know, going kind of big time. Um, so like in my blogging days, she was... was and is still like a total icon. But anyway, so Riley asked to interview me for a piece that's now on Camillestyles.com. I'm gonna have a link down below. Um, but the piece was all about body positivity and body neutrality.

Now, if Riley's name sounds familiar, that's because she's been on the podcast before. So I interviewed her for actually the debut episode of our Body of Work series, which we'll definitely be adding to now that we're podcasting again. Um, so Riley is a socially conscious storyteller, photographer, writer, and she's also a friend. So she was the one that I turned to, to, to try my hand at my first ever makeup-free photoshoot. Um, she also was the, the woman behind the camera in the photoshoot, where I smashed my scale which was a very liberating experience to say the least.

And, you know, during these sessions, quite naturally, we've had some really powerful conversations about our relationships to our bodies and in overall appearance. So I was, of course, very honored when she asked me to discuss the topic with her. So, again, if you want to read the article, I'm going to go ahead and have it linked down in the show notes below. Otherwise, stick around because I'm going to be reading a version of the article that's been adapted for the podcast. Okay?

First, let's talk about the history and evolution of body positivity

Claire Siegel: So before we dive in, um, kind of, let me give you a lay of the land. I want to introduce to you the topic of body neutrality, but I want to do so by kind of juxtaposing it. If you will, with body positivity. Body positivity is obviously a popular term, which we're going to dig into, but I think it's interpreted as like the only way to be nice to your body. And as we'll explore, that's like not, not really what body positivity is all about. And I'm also all about being nice to your body. And so we'll get into body neutrality as a suggested alternative. This will all make sense in about 120 seconds. Okay?

So let's start with body positivity. So, of course body positivity is huge on social media, but contrary to what you're going to see while scrolling on Instagram, body positivity is actually a form of activism. It's rooted in the fat acceptance movement that really kind of rose in the 1960s, along with the creation of the national association to advance fat acceptance. And this was a movement that spoke out against fatphobia, weight stigma, and it promoted body love regardless of body size.

Now through time and with the advent of social media, body positivity—and the interpretation of body positivity—has, has evolved, and many would argue it's been watered down. So today, you know, most people think of body positivity as a call just to love your body just as, as it is.

And like I said, I don't think that this is an inherently bad idea. I, I love loving my body and I would love for you to love your body. And certainly, you know, this, this notion can help people in all bodies, struggling with body image. But the problem that kind of arises with this watered-down, Instagram-friendly version of body positivity is that those in marginalized bodies continue to be marginalized in this version of body positivity.

So you can see it. You know, you'll scroll through and you'll see, you know, women in smaller bodies are, are praised for, you know, quote unquote bravely posting images displaying their cellulite or, or stomach rolls when they sit. But if you scroll through the comment section of a fat-positive influencer, you're going to see just countless fatphobic remarks. Even if that, that influencer's post has nothing to do with their bodies. Right?

The history of body neutrality

Claire Siegel: So while, again, body positivity is this, this activism movement, it's a social justice movement, body neutrality is, is a little bit different. Um, so it's, uh, it's a much newer movement really emerging online in around 2015. And while there's no like kind of one clear leader, a woman named Anne Poirier—I don't know if I'm pronouncing her name correctly—um, she created something called the body neutrality workshop, which was a wellness retreat, um, hosted in Vermont. So in some cases she's kind of attributed with the advent of, of body neutrality. But like much like body positivity, this has been a movement that's been propelled through social media, by many, many thought leaders.

And you'll see celebrities like Jameela Jamil, trainers like Lauren Lee, Val, you know, thought leaders, Tiffany M, Anna Sweeney, countless others. And again, while body positivity is at its roots, a social justice movement, body neutrality is really more about the individual experience, or certainly that's what I've witnessed.

The difference between body positivity and body neutrality

Claire Siegel: So to explain the difference—and when I, when I say the difference, I mean, body neutrality and body positivity in this like interpretation of it, right? Not, not the real, like I think of it as like capital B, capital P, Body Positivity, social justice movement, but sort of like what we think of as body positivity.

I hope, I hope that distinction makes sense. But I'd like to use a beach analogy. Okay? So in the Instagram version of body positivity, body positivity looks like showing up to the beach in your bikini. You're snapping your selfies and you're feeling beautiful and all of your quote unquote imperfect glory. So the cellulite, the rolls, whatever the case may be. You're feeling good. Right? So that's body positivity, the kind of Instagram version of it. Okay.

Body neutrality, on the other hand, is going to the beach and whatever you feel good in and appreciating the feeling of sand between your toes and salt air on your skin.

And I have to be honest with you. I actually came up with this analogy while I was on a beach vacation, a couple... Oh my gosh that was only a month ago. Wow. Is that right? No, no. Two months ago. I'm sorry. I was, I'm looking at my calendar like no freaking way.

So a couple months ago, I was actually on the beach when I sort of got hit with this, you know, lightning bolt of inspiration for this analogy. And I was actually experiencing body neutrality in that moment. And it was such an incredible moment to experience the beach through my body versus being consumed by my body experience while at the beach. You know what I mean?

How do you start practicing body neutrality?

Claire Siegel: So, okay. Maybe the concept of body neutrality sounds good to you, but it's... it's just that. It's, it's a concept. So how do you actually start practicing it?

Start by getting curious

Claire Siegel: I find that a great place to start with body neutrality as with many, many other things, um, is a feeling of curiosity. Kind of opening yourself up with questions. A question that I would like to start with is, "When do I most often have negative body thoughts?" right? When do I most often have, have thoughts about my body that aren't neutral?

Now, starting your body neutrality journey, may you know, there may be this increase in awareness at the beginning. You may, for the first time become like keenly acutely aware of just how many negative body thoughts that you have, and that can be a tough experience. It feels very raw. It feels very vulnerable. Right?

So again, with that spirit of curiosity, I also want you to pair it with a ton of compassion and kindness for yourself. Okay? And just an immense amount of understanding and no judgment, no judgment at all. Okay?

So we've got kind questioning. When do I most often have negative body thoughts? When do I not feel neutral towards my body?

Notice patterns of when you don't feel good in your body

Claire Siegel: Start pattern matching here. So maybe you notice that the negative self-talk comes through as you're scrolling through your picture perfect social media feed, right? Everyone else's highlight reel. Or maybe it's when you're shopping for jeans. Maybe it's when you're seeing certain family members. Or maybe it's like once a month, right before your period. Maybe it's, you know, this, this time, uh, going out into the world again, after 15 months of being home in sweatpants. We, we talked about that a couple episodes ago.

So something I've seen with a lot of the women that we work with in Flourish is that negative body image and negative body talk often emerges while they're getting dressed or scrolling through social media.

So this is a really like manageable place to start. Okay? Body image is, is complex. There's often a lot of kind of history that goes into your body image and then there's different ways of, of experiencing body image. Right? So we don't, you know, try to tackle everything at once. We really start with small steps.

So we start there, right? And we work through strategies to help generate more neutral thoughts in those specific situations. So again, if you struggle with negative body talk, negative body image, every time you get dressed, well, guess what? Now's the time to clear out your closet. And get rid of things that no longer fit you or that you don't feel good in, or again, that you don't feel neutral in. Okay?

Remember we're creating body neutrality. Or if you notice—this was huge for me early in my journey, I kind of had this epiphany. It was like, okay, I actually feel like pretty neutral in my body when I'm doing my own thing, but as soon as I opened my phone and I just see, you know, what I now know to be like Photoshopped images and doctored images and, you know, women doing very specific poses to make themselves kind of meet the standard of beauty, like all these things. Now I know, but before I didn't realize that. Before it was just, I was on the comparison train. But I realized like, oh my gosh, I feel so much worse when I'm looking at social media than I do when I'm just kinda chilling on my own. Or even with my friends.

So guess what? That's an easy fix. Unfollow accounts, unfollow people that don't make you feel good. And it's nothing wrong with them. Like, again, everyone's on their own journey. I don't mean to speak ill upon anyone who does the poses and posting bikini, whatever. It's not about them. It's about you and making you feel good. So unfollow accounts that just don't make you feel. You can also mute accounts and you can mute stories. You can mute posts. That's a way to like unfollow people without actually unfollowing. And that can be a power move, you know? So another kind of realistic place to start once you kind of get, get those, like those, I think of those as like kind of checklist items, right? Clear your closet. Clear your social media feed. Notice patterns of when you don't feel good.

Bring in gratitude

Claire Siegel: Another kind of great place to start or a practice to bring in is gratitude. Okay? And I know it sounds trite, it sounds corny, but it really is so incredibly powerful. And there's a lot of research to back this up.

And listen, I'm far more loving of my body today than I was during the decade that I spent dieting. For sure. Without a doubt. And still not every single day is a great body image day for me. There are days that I don't love the way my stomach looks, or my arms, and my thighs or whatever. I just feel off. It's normal. It's part of the process.

But even on those days when I don't love my thighs, guess what? I am always grateful for what they allow me to experience. And bringing awareness to that gratitude, it offers kind of like that path back to feeling neutral. Okay?

Now, again, these are kind of, um, more action-oriented strategies that are gonna start to help a bit, but in all likelihood, there's going to need to be continued work to address some of those like deeply embedded beliefs that you have about your body. That's just how this work goes. It is, it is deep.

Like I said, body image is complex. There's, there's a historical element to it. You know, ideas that you have about your body that are embedded in you from a very young age. Um, whether that's, you know, kind of through your family history or through what you've been seeing on media since you were a little kid. It goes deep and it's complex.

And again, there are these deeply embedded beliefs that you have about your body. Some, some of which you may not even be aware of. Many of what you probably think of as a fact and never actually question. Okay?

And something to just know as you begin this journey towards body neutrality, if that's something that you choose, is that this is not a situation in which fake it till you make it is going to work. Alright? Research actually shows that repeating positive affirmations that you don't actually believe can actually leave you feeling worse if you already struggle with low self-esteem.

So again, like back in my dieting days, when I was really deep in the trenches of the opposite of body neutrality, the opposite of body positivity, the opposite of body confidence and body love.

When I just woke up every single day hating my thighs, writing down and journaling, "I love my thighs," would not have helped. In fact, it would have made things worse for me.

And this is why I'm such a huge proponent of individualized coaching and getting that outside support. Because it is really hard—first of all, again, there may be like beliefs and thoughts that you're having about your body, that you're not even aware of. And that's where having a neutral third party, someone who's on your team, can be so incredibly helpful to just gently point that stuff out and then help you to move forward. Right?

Because again, you're developing an awareness here. You're realizing, "Man, I have negative thoughts about my thighs, like all the time!"

Okay, cool. Awareness. Got it. But then what? I just told you, fake it till you make it not gonna work. So that's something I know our members really appreciate, just having the time, the space and also the relationship with their coach to actually work through this stuff. Cause it, it takes time to, to get, to get there, right? Our coaches are there to help point out those unhelpful beliefs that are holding you back and then they help you develop a more neutral alternative that actually serves you.

You're going to maybe think I'm sounding a little woo-woo over here, but it really changes the way that your brain works. It is so cool.

Body image work is some of my favorite work that we do in Flourish, whether it's here on the podcast or, you know, one-on-one with our members or in our community, because you start to realize the way that kind of healing your relationship with your body unlocks so many other things in your life.

And you may be sitting here thinking, oh, well, body image work is, is, is vain, superficial, but it's not. Right? It's historical, it's cultural, it's social. It's so many things. There's so many layers to it. There's a ton to unpack and so much to be gained through healing your body image. Whether you want to experience body confidence or body love, or in this case, body neutrality.

And I've met far too many women who have been suffering in silence with their body image for years. In most cases, decades. And, you know, that's where we start to develop those feelings of shame, right? When we're suffering in silence on something, when we feel like we're the only ones.

Shame loves to live in those like dark corners of our minds, and that's what keeps us stuck. Right? But connecting with the right people on these topics, it's like shining a giant beam of light on those dark corners. Shame cannot co-exist with connection. All right?

If you leave this podcast feeling good, because you're like, oh my gosh, that is the voice of one woman who has been through what I've been through. Then you're really onto something there. Okay?

So, with that, if you like this idea of healing, your body image, if you liked the idea of, of taking those steps towards body neutrality, if you feel like right now, your brain and your body are like in this constant battle, I invite you to simply be open to the possibility of getting some outside support. Okay?

And of course I would love to be part of your journey. So, all right. Wishing you all the best, sending so much love, especially if you are on a body image journey. I have been there. I still do work all the time on this subject. Again, it is not easy. It is complex. And it is worth it. It is so worth it. Okay? I'll see you next week.



Claire Siegel:

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Flourish podcast. If you enjoyed it, please take a second to leave us a five-star review or better yet, share it with a friend. And if you're ready to start your own journey to get healthy for good with accountability from expert coaches and the support of an incredible community, head to the show notes to get started on your Flourish journey.

I'll see you in the next episode.

Featuring
Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
RDN, LD
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.
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